Eat Here Now

After a Shaky Start, Bar Casa Vale Finds Its Footing

With a long sherry menu and Spanish drinking food, Nate Tilden’s newest spot looks to make good on its promise.

By Benjamin Tepler January 23, 2017 Published in the February 2017 issue of Portland Monthly

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Restaurateur Nate Tilden—best known for his part in Clyde Common, Olympia Provisions, and Spirit of ’77dreams big. Characteristically, not only did Tilden (and his business partners) open four more restaurants in 2016, but he also physically helped build them—personally welding shelving, furniture, and a black steel chapa griddle for various projects. When his half-baked Honky Tonk Taco joint on Division tanked after only three months, we wondered if the charming DIY’er was spreading himself too thin.

Early meals at his most recent undertaking, Bar Casa Vale (at the corner of SE Ninth Avenue and Pine Street) seemed to point in that direction. BCV is a sherry bar with Spanish drinking food and “big-ass flames and glazed tiles.” A month in, during the slow, icy dregs of late fall, servers still couldn’t navigate the spirits list—a big deal for a sherry bar. Food was way off: greasy, burnt hearth-roasted cauliflower to mouth-puckering rabbit escabeche. The space was, and is, a bit of a puzzle. A long, 20-seat bar, backed by beautiful, turquoise arabesque tiling and friendly bartenders, sits opposite a walled-off sunken dining area with none of the atmosphere and all of the drunken din.

But a recent visit showed promise. BCV might offer fare more ambitious than an Olympia Provisions salami board, but it’s still a bar through and through: not a Spanish restaurant like Toro Bravo, and certainly not Ataula. Appropriately, drinks are at its heart. Tilden’s well-assembled crew has clearly dug into the literature. Pan-Latin cocktails, from a Cynar-fueled Argentine Julep to a sweet, sherry-forward Amontillado Cobbler, are now dispatched with the excitement and hospitality of a great, footloose pintxos spot. The Spanish-heavy wine menu is a blast to peruse, and if you’re looking for a starter sherry from the 30-bottle list, we liked the caramel-buttery, dry Valdespino Palo Cortado.

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The food still needs fine-tuning and an all-around salt check, but there are some solid, drink-friendly finds for carnivores. Meaty, charred octopus with chorizo-fried hearth potatoes, bloody rare Painted Hills steak with chimichurri, and crispy pig snout draped in bitter black garlic harissa, served nostrils and all, make the cut.

Winter is a hard time to open, period. We’re excited for the warmer months, when BCV’s light-strung patio opens, hopefully electrifying this Barcelona-in-spirit watering hole, built for smoky eats, crushed-ice highballs, and vivacious crowds.

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